Falling Stars Review
For the most part, it must be relatively difficult to make a role-playing game accessible and even desirable for the younger gaming crowd. By default, it’s essentially the most complex genre out there, so all the developer can really hope to do is simplify the concepts and tone down any dark or unsettling aspects. This is what Ivolgamus attempts to do with Falling Stars, but in the end, it falls well short of accomplishing…well, anything. It’s slow, stodgy, uninteresting, bland, mechanical, and if you hadn’t guessed already, it’s not even worth the relatively low price of admission. There are a few intriguing concepts sprinkled throughout this crucially flawed production, but they can’t possibly save the adventure from almost complete obscurity. Granted, parents may be hard pressed to find a straightforward, inoffensive RPG for their kids, but without any doubt, there are better options available than Falling Stars. Yeah, it’s colorful and everything, and there’s a strategic foundation to the fighting, but it’s all extremely stilted and unrefined.
Well, we just mentioned vibrant color, but that’s about where the positives end in regards to the visual presentation. There’s a serious lack of detail in both the environment and the characters, although at least for a PS2 game, it doesn’t look too bad. The only real problem we have with it is that it doesn’t convey enough atmosphere for the setting; while this is designed for younger gamers, there is an ominous presence lurking in the town. Hence, we would’ve expected just a wee bit of oppressive graphical overtones, but that’s not what happens. This is more like Candy Land got infested with cute little monsters. There aren’t really any cut-scenes to talk about, and while some of the creature design is okay, none of it is all that original. All in all, Falling Stars goes for a certain look and decides to ignore the darker elements of the game that woud’ve made the visuals more interesting. Besides, with such a significant lack of detail, even vibrant color can’t cover up a landscape that is both generic and repetitive. Okay on the surface, but little to no substance underneath.
The sound is worse, primarily due to muted, ineffective sound effects during battle and a repeating soundtrack that could drive you directly out of your skull after an hour of play. Ivolgamus misses the mark when attempting to provide us with a lush, lively environment, and that’s a direct result of lackluster visuals and mediocre sound. Given the graphical palette that reminds us of a coloring book, one would expect birds in the trees, wind rustling the grass, and at the very least, different footstep effects when crossing different terrain. But it all sounds very much the same, regardless of where you are or what you’re doing, and the battles don’t help. Some of the special attacks are a bit better, but in general, nothing about the sound grips and envelops the player as combat effects are typically supposed to do. There is no voice acting – probably a good thing, because if there had been, it likely would’ve been terrible – and the sound may be the most neglected category in the game. The gameplay may have taken more effort, but that didn’t work, either, so…
You play as Luna, a young girl who has a mysterious spirit sitting within her, pushing her to discover the mystery of the monsters that have been unleashed by a previously cordial character named Matt. We’re not really sure if Luna is aware of the spirit inside her, or if Luna is the spirit, but that doesn’t really matter. Basically, all you really do is wander back and forth between characters in the town, following a linear path that traverses different areas. If you have a pet with you, it will do all the fighting when you encounter an enemy on these paths, and you can train that pet at home and by winning battles. This is where the role-playing aspect comes in, and we’ll get to that in just a second. For now, let’s just say you move about agonizingly slowly (you can only run until the blue stamina bar is empty, and it drains quick), doing some menial tasks for village folk and running back and forth a whole lot. You don’t really get into the crux of the gameplay for a while, and that’s gonna be a tough sell for the kids out there. It’s slow and repetitive, and the guessing game isn’t much fun.
Guessing game? Perhaps that’s an unfair label, just because you can predict many of the attacks that are coming your way. Even so, it is a guess, so let us explain: there are three possible attacks and three possible defensive stances that go in line with the attacks. So when the enemy goes to attack, you must select one of the three defensive options; you have to guess what kind of attack the enemy selected. If you choose exactly the right one, the enemy attack will do little or no damage. If you choose the wrong one, it’ll hurt you, and if you choose the exact wrong one, you’ll get nailed with a critical. In other words, if you select the light (Fast) attack and the enemy uses the most powerful attack, you’ll get crushed. This same formula applies when you move to attack, and the good news is, enemies tend to have both offensive and defensive patterns. Therefore, the first time you face a certain foe, it’ll be a learning process. After that, you just need to remember the standard routine that enemy uses in battle.
This is by far the most appealing part of the gameplay, but it’s so simple that it doesn’t really reward intelligence. All it does is reward memory, and that gets very tiring and repetitive after a while. Besides, only the pet actually fights; Luna stands by and issues healing with Potions when necessary, but that’s about it. The combat is typical turn-based, as a time bar fills for all three members of the battle – your pet, the enemy, and Luna – and you can actually have Luna’s bar fill up faster by rotating the right anlog in a clockwise fashion. There’s not really much else to talk about, besides the mini-games that will pop up during your adventure. For instance, the first one involves a kitten stuck up high, and the only way to get the poor thing down is…uh…well, have it jump onto a pile of pillows stacked on top of a toy train, going around a figure-eight track. You have to give Bobo the signal to drop a pillow onto the train at just the right moment, and you’ll also have to fix the train and adjust the track from time to time. It’s very easy to do, as are all the min-games that come after it, and that includes the archery lessons.
Look, there just isn’t anything to get excited about here. Running around town and fighting monsters, doing discover-and-fetch chores for people, and training your pet is about where it ends. The only other interesting element involves dressing Luna; depending on the outfit she wears, certain characters in the game will respond better to her, while others won’t. But you can’t believe how boring this gets, especially with the absolutely absurd loading times. You’ll have to change areas and fight quite often, and the game has to load every time, which means you’ll often spend just as much time playing as you will loading! Sadly, we just can’t locate any reason whatsoever for anyone, young or old, to give Falling Stars a try. The story is clichéd and contrived, the characters aren’t well defined at all, the battle mechanic is clunky and repetitive, the sound is terrible, the atmosphere isn’t engaging, the loading is looooong, and in the end, it’s really a waste of time.
9/18/2008 Ben Dutka